Book Review: How We Decide

Finished this some time last week so things aren’t completely fresh. Again, this book overlapped Emotional Intelligence. Emotional Intelligence basically asserts that there is Emotional Quotient in addition to Intelligence Quotient. It outlined all the domains of emotional intelligence and supported them with studies. How We Decide asserts that all our decisions are emotional decisions even when we’re not aware of it. It actually reminds me of Malcom Gladwell’s Blink which is funny because Blink is listed in his bibliography. It’s been a couple of years since I’ve read Blink but Blink mainly focused on psychological studies whereas How We Decide mainly focused on the inner workings of the brain, mainly with the prefrontal cortex.

He explains that our brain works on a very rudimentary rewards system. As we’re rewarded or punished by our decisions, our brain tries to figure out the events that lead up to the surge or dopamine when we’re rewarded. The dopamine acts as our pointer. Later he explains that because it is so rudimentary, we need to sometimes try to rationalize a bit before we follow “our heart.” Basically, we need to master a balance between head and heart.

He then unveils some of our decision making defects, One such defect, loss aversion is our inclination to be so afraid of loss that we make irrational decisions or give up long term gain to avoid short term loss. Another example of a defect is that we tend to count and remember and give more weight to the negative things over the positive things. It takes five compliments to offset one criticism.

Generally, the book is entertaining with current examples. Focused on a lot of science which makes it a good counter to Gladwell’s books. I’d recommend this book to boys who don’t like to read. I like to keep a mental list of books that are good hooks for nonreaders. I was thoroughly engaged by this book because it’s so interesting but his examples I find would appeal to a lot of guys I know. He opens up with football and Tom Brady, discusses fighter pilots and their having to decide whether to shoot at a blip on the radar, poker players and their strategies. I was hoping maybe it’ll have more examples with interpersonal decisions. You know, talk more about how we make some of our emotional decisions regarding relationships. Lehrer did not touch any of that. Perhaps, that’s a whole other ballpark.


Loss aversion is now recognized as a powerful mental habit with widespread implications. The desire to avoid anything that smacks of loss often shapes our behavior, leading us to do foolish things…We try to postpone the pain for as long as possible; the result is more losses.

This is so sweet. From his acknowledgements:

My girlfriend, Sarah Liebowitz, has read this book dozens of times (I’m not exaggerating) in all of its various drafts and guises. This book wouldn’t exist without her insightful criticisms, cheerful support, and love. By the time you read this, Sarah will be my wife, which is, without a doubt, the best decision I’ve ever made.

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P.S. He’s pretty young (27) and cute, this Jonah Lehrer.